Israel sprays “skunk water” into Palestinian homes
September 22, 2014
A new report highlights Israel’s use of supposedly “non-lethal weapons” against unarmed Palestinian protesters.
The report – “Proven Effective: Crowd control weapons in the Occupied Territories” – was published by the group Who Profits and launched at a conference in Jerusalem on 10 September.
Focusing on tear gas, skunk water and “The Scream” (a high volume acoustic device strapped atop Israeli military vehicles), the report documents their regular use to violently crush unarmed Palestinian demonstrators throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
It begins by reiterating two immensely important facts reported time and again by The Electronic Intifada: firstly, that Israel’s “non-lethal” weapons, in fact, often kill Palestinians, and secondly, that the manufacturing of weapons used against Palestinians is an extremely lucrative business.
Who Profits focuses on tear gas produced by the American company Combined Systems, Incorporated (also known as Combined Tactical Systems), which produces “less lethal” weapons and “provides support to military forces and law enforcement agencies worldwide,” according to its website.
CSI also produces tear gas grenades and sting-ball bombs, or small devices that explode and shoot out dozens of tiny steel balls at demonstrators.
Its tear gas canisters, clearly labeled with the initials CSI or CST, are often found in Palestinian villages after the Israeli military raids them or attacks protests.
CSI is represented by M.R. Hunter, a Tel Aviv-based company that claims to be “the largest provider of tear gas munitions to the Israeli army, prison service and police,” according to Who Profits.
Repression across the globe
As Alex Kane of Mondoweiss recently wrote, CSI tear gas was used last month against unarmed protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, where militarized US police forces laid siege after demonstrations erupted in response to a police officer’s killing of an unarmed black teenager.
During the 2011 Egyptian revolution, regime forces used CSI tear gas transported via Israel. Who Profits notes that at least forty Egyptians were killed by tear gas, and another 2,000 were injured either through inhalation or from being struck by the canisters.
CSI provides tear gas and other weapons to repressive regimes across the globe, including Bahrain, Tunisia and Yemen.
A 2008 cable published by WikiLeaks shows the US government’s direct involvement in transferring CSI weapons to Israeli occupation authorities. Though this was never a secret, the cable shows the lucrative nature of weapons sales.
The same cable also suggests that Israel transferred weapons shipments to departments not approved by the US Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State’s Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance, which seeks to ensure American weapons are being used in a pre-approved manner and setting, sought an investigation into whether weapons intended for Israeli police use were being used by Israeli prison authorities.
According to the cable, an investigation was necessary because “inconsistencies were noted in the license application supporting documents.” It includes an itemized list of such weapons – mostly “CS” tear gas – that amounts to a total worth more than $5.1 million.
The Israeli military has for years sprayed Palestinians in protest settings and outside of them with skunk water, a foul smelling liquid generally fired from a high power turret atop a military vehicle.
Known as “The Skunk,” the weapon’s safety data sheet concedes that it “causes skin irritation, eye irradiation and redness and abdominal pain,” Who Profits notes.
First employed by Israel against Palestinians in 2008, it has become a regular form of attack against unarmed protesters in West Bank villages like Nabi Saleh, Bilin and Kufr Qaddoum.
Mariam Barghouti, a Ramallah-based activist and writer, said the weapon “projects water at a high velocity so there is a risk of that injuring you,” adding that many have started referring to it as “the shitter” in Arabic.
“Due to its intense smell that gnaws at your nostrils, it makes it difficult to breathe,” she told The Electronic Intifada. “If you only get sprayed with it, that is an agony you have to live with for a few days to a few weeks. The water lingers on your skin to a point when you want to rip your skin off.”
“It smells like sewage mixed with rotten food,” she explained.
Passed out from the smell
Israel’s frequent use of skunk water “raises suspicions that The Skunk is being used punitively against villages where regular weekly demonstrations are held,” according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
B’Tselem also notes that in 2012 Israeli forces sprayed a funeral procession with skunk water in Hebron, a city in the southern part of the occupied West Bank.
Who Profits and B’Tselem both point out that skunk water is often sprayed directly into the homes of Palestinians, despite Israel’s claim that it is used solely for “riot control” purposes.
In July 2014, Israeli occupation forces sprayed skunk water into 75-year-old Rubhiya Darwish’s home in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp.
“I saw a burst of water breaking through the window, when suddenly an intense odor hit and I passed out from the smell, so they had to take me to the hospital,” the elderly woman told Ma’an News Agency.
Israel’s targeting of homes and businesses not involved in demonstrations has been roundly denounced by Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups.
Israeli military forces also sprayed several other homes in the refugee camp and the surrounding area that day.
The weapon was developed by Israeli police in collaboration with Odortec, an Israeli company that agreed to develop scent-based weapons for occupation authorities at a heavily discounted rate.
Though Odortec is owned by Israeli businessmen, Who Profits adds that the weapon’s production involves the German company MAN, which provides the chassis for the military vehicles that carry the weapon.
In 2013, MAN, which also sells its trucks and equipment across Europe, enjoyed a revenue of €16.7 billion Euros (more than $20 billion), according to a July 2014 Reuters report.
Another Israeli company, Beit Alfa Technologies, provides the actual military vehicles that carry the weapon. According to its website, it provides “riot control gear” to more than 35 countries across the world.
Since 2005, Israeli occupation forces have also employed the use of “The Scream,” a device described by manufacturer Electro-Optics Research and Development as emitting “sound levels that are unbearable to humans at distances up to 100 meters.”
The Long Range Acoustic Devices Corporation (LRAD) has been providing a newer version of the weapon to the Israeli military since 2012. In 2011, LRAD announced that its first shipment of “The Scream” to Israel rang up a bill of $293,000.
Numerous victim testimonies contradict the claims of Israel and the manufacturers that the weapon is safe.
According to Who Profits, the group Physicians for Human Rights – Israel collected several complaints that the weapon caused “dizziness, nausea, headaches, ataxia and a general sense of weakness.”
All three of these weapons are part of a broader arsenal of “non-lethal weapons” that maim Palestinians. In some cases, these “non-lethal weapons” are lethal.
In January, Said Jasir, an 85-year-old Palestinian man from Kufr Qaddoum, died after reportedly inhaling tear gas fired liberally by Israeli occupation soldiers in the village.
Noha Qatamesh, a Palestinian woman who had asthma, suffered a similar fate when she died in April after Israeli forces attacked Palestinians with tear gas in Bethlehem.
In other cases, fatal injuries were inflicted when the tear gas canister was fired by Israeli soldiers at Palestinians from a close range. In April 2009, Bassem Abu Rahmeh died shortly after being shot at close range in the chest with a tear gas canister.
Other weapons, such as rubber-coated steel bullets, have also killed more frequently. According to a January 2013 B’Tselem report, Israeli forces’ use of rubber-coated steel bullets killed at least eighteen Palestinians (twelve of whom were children) between 2000 and December 2012.
Yet even in cases when the “non-lethal weapons” don’t kill, they often inflict serious injuries on their victims and sometimes render them maimed and disfigured.
As I reported for The Huffington Post earlier this year, Israeli soldiers often ignore their own regulations designed to make these weapons “safe.”
In some cases, such as that of six-year-old Mousab Sarahnin, the damage is irreparable. Nowhere near a protest as he walked home with his mother and siblings, this child was shot in the face with a rubber-coated steel bullet, as reported by The Electronic Intifada at the time.
As a result of the shooting by an Israeli soldier, Mousab lost an eye.
These weapons “are first tested in labs, and then ‘monitored exercises’ are conducted on human beings, Palestinians, Israelis and foreign citizens demonstrating in West Bank villages,” Who Profits explains.
“After these experiments, the manufacturer can use the results to market the products.”
The use of these weapons in breach of regulations and in a reckless fashion can “violate numerous basic human rights of Palestinians, and in some cases may rise to the level of war crimes as defined by international law,” the Who Profits report concludes.